Proposed reforms will fix systemic barriers to building housing

A Housing Affordability Task Force has recommended that Ontario set the ambitious and very bold goal of building 1.5 million homes over the next 10 years.

To reach the new objective it would mean doubling the current pace of housing construction – which would be a remarkable feat by any stretch of the imagination. About 92,000 new housing units were started in 2021, and 79,000 in 2020, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Authors of the report have laid out an impressive array of 55 sweeping reforms to reach the target. The changes are aimed at reining in home prices by dramatically boosting the supply of housing.

RESCON has been calling for changes for some time, so I am delighted that we now have a comprehensive strategy to fix systemic barriers to building housing. The current way of doing things has not been working – evidenced by the fact house prices have almost tripled in the past 10 years. 

In Toronto, for example, the cost of the average dwelling relative to income is by far the worst amongst G7 countries, in large part because the approvals process is cumbersome and stymies development.

Many people – even those with well-paying jobs – can only dream of homeownership. Without action, the situation will only get worse. Population growth in Ontario is expected to be about 2.27 million people in the next decade and it’s anticipated more than 400,000 immigrants will be coming to Canada in each of the next several years. They will need homes, so there is certainly an urgent need.

The task force recommendations lay out a blueprint for how to get more shovels in the ground. It is the type of progressive, out-of-the-box thinking that we need to solve this problem. The suggestions will revolutionize how municipalities approve projects and blow the cobwebs out of the housing supply chain crisis. 

I am particularly pleased that the task force is proposing changes that would lessen the grip that municipalities have over developments and, importantly, give the province the tools and authority to increase housing density in neighbourhoods that are presently zoned exclusively for single-family homes.

There would be significant loosening of zoning restrictions in neighbourhoods that currently allow only detached or semi-detached houses. This would permit secondary suites, garden suites, laneway houses, and multi-tenant housing in residential neighbourhoods.

The task force is also suggesting to speed-up construction of much-needed new housing by limiting the amount of time spent consulting the public on housing developments and legislating timelines for development approvals. If a municipality misses an approval deadline, a project will get an automatic green light and the municipality would have its provincial funding reduced.

Authors of the report also suggest the repeal of municipal policies that focus on preserving a neighbourhood’s character and establishing uniform provincial standards for urban design and setbacks.

To some, these recommendations might seem excessive. But we are in a housing crisis and in dire need of change. The present development approvals process is too cumbersome and slow. In Ontario, obtaining a site plan approval from municipal authorities almost always exceeds the established 30-day timeline, taking up to 180 days on average, according to a report done for RESCON. 

The housing shortage is affecting our economic growth. The Toronto Region Board of Trade and WoodGreen Community Services indicated in a report that the lack of affordable housing is costing the Greater Toronto Area up to nearly $8 billion annually – or up to almost $38 billion over a five-year period.

The provincial task force report is certainly welcome news for developers, builders and those in need of housing. We can no longer tinker around the edges and apply band-aid solutions to the problem at hand.

This report provides some concrete measures to speed up the housing development process and I am hopeful that the Ontario government can bring in the reforms before the June 2 provincial election.

The proposals in the report will dramatically shift the needle in terms of building more housing stock. The iron is hot, the need is great, so this is the right time for action.

Richard Lyall is president of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON). He has represented the building industry in Ontario since 1991. Contact him at [email protected] 

2022-02-18 13:00:00

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